Doctors suffer too when they make medical mistakes

Much of the attention, rightly so, is on patients whenever a medical mistake is made.

But the toll it takes on doctors can be significant. I’ve often referred to the statistic, for instance, that 10 percent of doctors who are sued for medical malpractice contemplate suicide.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Pauline Chen examines how doctors fare after making a mistake. And the answer is, not good. In effect, “each of us was only one misstep away from that lonely and vicious cycle of errors that could unexpectedly and irrevocably spiral out of control.”

That’s frightening.

With all the attention today being focused on medical errors, one has to realize that a goal of zero mistakes is not feasible. Consequently, “you can’t go through training without making an error unless you are not taking care of patients,” and the stress of trying to do so builds up, leading to burnout and depression.

And when you consider the fact that clinicians who are depressed are twice as likely to make a medical mistake, it’s to everyone’s benefit that we better support doctors when the inevitable error occurs.

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories